‘Vida’ Showrunner Tanya Saracho Talks Season 3 & the Legacy of the Starz Series

     May 3, 2020

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Vida is back on Starz for its third and final season, with sisters Emma (Mishel Prada) and Lynn (Melissa Barrera) proud of their success, as their bar and their love lives seem to be on track and going well. But leave it to the drama that runs through their family to cause disruption and lead them to discover a long buried family secret that could either ruin everything or bring them closer together than ever.

During a virtual press day for the latest season, creator and showrunner Tanya Saracho talked to Collider 1-on-1 about how hard it was to say goodbye to this series, experiencing all of the stages of grief since finding out the show would be ending, how things might have been different if she’d had more time to explore some of the storylines she’d planned, the legacy of Vida, her love of all things Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and much more.

COLLIDER: I’m always excited when there is new Vida season to talk about, but at the same time, this is definitely one of those shows that is hard to say goodbye to and is going to leave an ache in the heart once the final episode has aired.

TANYA SARACHO: I know. Trust me, I’ve had that ache since I found out.

Was it hard for you to say goodbye to these characters and this world? Was there a chance for you to actually say goodbye to them, in that sense?

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Image via Starz

SARACHO: Yes, that was actually the torture of it. They told me as they greenlit me [for another season]. Before we had the writers’ room, they were like, “So, this is the last season, so prepare for an ending.” I went through all the stages of grief. I didn’t really believe it, at first. I was like, “No, no, no, we can change their minds. I’ll just make six masterpieces.” Also, they informed me that it was six [episodes], not 10. I was like, “Okay, Fleabag is six too, so we can make brilliance. Fleabag is brilliant, and we can also be brilliant. I’ll change their minds.” It was the stages of grief. Then, anger happened because I had to go through the process, and I had to build her so that I could let her go – and by “her,” I mean Vida – I’m at full acceptance of it now. I went through all of it, all the emotions. I had months. Now, COVID-19 and this quarantine has helped me look inside a lot. I delivered Vida on March 12th, full-on and ready. Then, on the 13th, I went into quarantine.

All I’ve done is look inside and look back at this great experience of four years of magic. I entered this just so inexperienced. I didn’t study this, and I’ve only been here three years, so there was a lot of the production stuff and post-production stuff that I had no idea about. The “telling a story” part, I knew. What I didn’t know was that I didn’t know what it was to be final decision-making power on everything. That was frightening. But by the end, this experience has engendered a person who can do this. That’s huge for me, on a personal note. But also, the legacy that I think this show, dare I say, is going to leave, makes me so proud. I’m so grateful that I got three seasons of this story. Starz was really great about letting this season and the episode length fit the story. This ain’t no half-four, this season. The episodes are 40, 45, and 55 minutes because the story asked for it and required it.

Would this season have looked very different, if you hadn’t known it was the last season, or is this the story that you were looking to tell, as the next chapter in their lives?

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Image via Starz

SARACHO: Well, I might never know that. Maybe I have an inkling. I knew that we had to serve the dad storyline. I knew that I wanted to serve a love triangle between Baco, Nico, and Emma, but there was no real estate. There were things I knew I wanted to do, this season, but then the urgency of having to end it was a new challenge. So, I sped up stuff between the sisters, like the knowledge of what the mom did with Emma. It all comes to light here. I thought we were gonna get to know that way later, but we had this amount of time to tell it. The ending was always gonna be a similar ending, but there was gonna be a lot more stuff to happen. I had designs to burn down the bar. We were gonna do so much stuff. They were gonna be shut down because they didn’t have a license to do concerts. All of these things were gonna happen. But I’m very proud of this season. We got a lot of good stuff in there, like dealing with Rudy’s mother, how religion in Latinidad affects us when we’re queer, drag kings, and queerceañeras. I can’t be mad.

These sisters have taken quite a journey, over the course of Vida. What’s it been like to have Mishel Prada and Melissa Barrera to go through this with as your own little trio? Do you feel like you’ve pushed them in ways that they hadn’t been pushed before, as actors?

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Image via Starz

SARACHO: I think we were all ready, so like I don’t feel like I pushed. I think that they were up for the challenge. We were up all up for the challenge. Sometimes, as Latina artists in this town, we just don’t get the opportunities. I’m a former actress, but because I’m fat – and I’m taking back the term because I love myself and I’m fat – I only would get the maid roles. I just never got the opportunity. I went to Oxford and I studied theater for acting, but I never got the chance to test my skills. I feel like, in a way, even though Mishel had never been in a TV show or film, ever before, which is crazy (only a web series) she didn’t have experience, really, but something about her, she was ready. She just needed that shot. It was the same thing with Melissa. She has a lot of experience, just none in this country. She’s done a ton of telenovelas and musical theater and she was ready. She just needed a shot. So, I don’t wanna take credit for pulling any performance out of them. They just needed the platform and the characters. They needed those rich characters in order to do it. It’s been so great, getting to grow with them.

Do you feel like, when it comes to this show, your legacy of this show will not just include the existence of a show populated by characters that we hadn’t gotten to see depicted before, but it will also be the artists that you brought together and shone a spotlight on?

SARACHO: Each one of us were all unknown, and I’m not just talking about the actors. My cinematographer had never run a camera department and, all of a sudden, she was in charge of 36 people. She was the head of that department, and now she’s in demand and I can’t get her. It’s awesome. The fact that career got made, and that my career got made, by this show is awesome. The cast is the most obvious example of this because you can track what their next projects are. But also, with my writers, because the show gave first shots at being staff writers to a few people, now they’re at producer level and they’re super in demand. That’s huge. I love everybody, but that’s what creates our stories: the writers. I’m trying to train a showrunner. I’m hoping everyone gets their shows because that’s when we’ll have the power. We had an all-female editor team this season and they were all Hispanic. Female editors, historically, don’t get the movies right away. Editing is still a boys’ club. It’s exciting to see them in demand, too.

This show also marked your debut as a director. What do you feel like you learned about directing, what your strengths as a director are, and what you still feel like you need to learn about directing, from having the experience?

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Image via Starz

SARACHO: You know where I’m supposed to be right now, if we were COVID-ed out? I was supposed to be doing a cinematography course in London, at the London Film Academy. But then, COVID happened, so no more London. All I got from directing Vida was the bug. I got bitten. So now, I wanna do it more because I realized how little I know. I’d directed 16 theater plays, but it’s not the same. Speaking to actors and getting the performance out is the only thing that I feel comfortable with. Thank god I had such good cinematographers because I only worked on feeling. I’d be like, “When we enter the scene, I want it to feel like this.” I don’t wanna just be doing that. I wanna be like, “Okay, I need you to use this lens.” Right now, I don’t know how to do that because I didn’t go to school for it, like I didn’t go to school for writing for TV. Now, I’m in talks to direct a couple of things, like movies. I don’t know when, because right now production has stopped, but the bug bit me and I love it. That was such a great gift, that Vida left me with.

When people can start up productions again, what does that next thing look like for you?

SARACHO: We have to pretend that we can. Right now, I’m like, “When?!”

Do you want to focus on directing, or are you writing a bunch of stuff while you’re in quarantine? Do you know what you’d like to do next?

SARACHO: I have a million stories that I’d like to tell, but am I baron during this quarantine? Yes. I don’t know what’s happening to me. All of these friends of mine are creating and writing a million things, and I am paralyzed. I was really mean to myself, for the first two and a half weeks, about it. I was like, “Why aren’t you writing everything? You should be. This is the time to do it.” We’ve never been here, so we don’t have a manual for how to act and how to react. I realized that I’m in survival mode only, and it’s okay to be there. It says nowhere that I’m supposed to create a bunch of things. But my dream is that we don’t have a Latina or Latinx with a slate right now, and I wanna have a slate. I wanna have a mini studio, where I supervise the YA genre, Latinx things, and period drama. I wanna have it all. We just need to get through COVID, so that people can go back to something. Right now, it’s very stilted. Now that I’ve figured out that I can do it, I’d like to supervise and champion other people to do it, and also do some more, myself.

The end of this series is not neatly wrapped up and tied with a bow. These characters are going to continue having their lives. What most excited you about where you leave these sisters and what you hope their relationship turns into, passed what we see, at the end of the series?

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Image via Starz

SARACHO: All of them are left open-ended. Nothing has a hard period, for anyone. If people do love the show, I would love for them to fill in the blanks. That’s my favorite thing to do. When Fleabag says goodbye to the camera, I’m still imagining what her next day will be like. That’s the beauty of an ending like that, or hopefully an ending like ours. You can still imagine it. Of course, I had designs, a long time ago, for a fourth, fifth and sixth season. Now, this is the punctuation mar that we leave it in, but it’s open-ended, hopefully for people to dream about what happens to these two sisters. I would love to know people’s opinions. It’s like when you write a play, and then you can have a lot of next days, after the play ends, depending on what you think could happen. A satisfying ending to me is where your belly is totally satisfied with what happens, even if there’s no resolution. There’s no resolution in Fleabag. It’s just an emotional ending. Can you tell that I’m obsessed with Phoebe Waller-Bridge?

Especially since so many people are watching TV right now, have you watched anything recently that stands out for you, or is there a show that, now that you’ve done some directing, you would love to get to go direct an episode of?

SARACHO: I’m gonna sound like a stalker now, but Killing Eve came back, and I’m crazy about that show. Somebody asked me, “If there were one show that you could EP, what would it be?” And I said Killing Eve. I’m crazy about it. And then, there’s Run on HBO, also written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Those are the two, this week, that I’m excited about.

Vida Season 3 airs on Sunday nights on Starz.

Television